Is it possible for a federal agency to compete with the giants of Silicon Valley? How to do it? These appear to be the biggest problems facing the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and which it intends to solve with CIA Labs, its technological arm that is approaching its first year of life.
Although the CIA had historically been a place from which some of America’s leading technological innovations emerged, 74 years after its founding it has lost ground to companies such as Facebook, Google or Microsoft.
CIA Labs is not America’s first tech lab. In fact, there are more than 300 gathered in the Federal Consortium of Laboratories for Technology Transfer (FLC), but it is the first to operate under the umbrella of the most famous intelligence service in the world.
The objective is to promote scientific and technological advances in areas such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, quantum computing, advanced manufacturing materials, technology of blockchain and virtual reality, among others.
Although a little less than a year after its launch – on September 20, 2020 – no concrete project has been reported, Dawn Meyerriecks, director of Science and Technology of the CIA, said that the entity seeks that States United maintain your competitive advantage in this area.
“Some phenomenal innovations have emerged at the CIA over the years, and with CIA Labs we are now better positioned to optimize developments and invest more in our scientists and technologists,” he stated at the platform launch.
It is often said that the CIA knows everything about you. And it is that one of the greatest challenges that CIA Labs intends to take on is optimizing the enormous amount of data that the agency processes and collects, even before reaching the central system.
In this way, if you expected that from CIA Labs technologies would emerge such as a rocket launcher that is deployed from a sports car, in the best style of the Super agent 86, the entity probably does not meet your expectations.
According to John Lewis, deputy director of CIA Labs, it is more about technology that allows to support the development of other efforts within the agency and the intelligence community. “We are looking at technologies that, for example, how do they make that device last longer with a better battery?” Lewis.
On paper, CIA Labs’ work offers nothing very different from what other tech labs do.
However, the idea of the agency is to promote the development of patents and intellectual property licenses or internships. To do this, officers can patent as their own the technologies in which they work from CIA Labs and collect 15 percent of the profits.
The CIA had already taken its first steps by sponsoring the creation of In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm that invests in companies that develop cutting-edge technologies that can serve the national security interests of the United States. In-Q-Tel backed companies like Keyhole, the core technology that is part of Google Earth, for example.
The CIA model appears to be inspired by the work carried out by Mossad, the Israeli spy service, which since 2017 has financed startups that develop technology that can be used by the agency.